It’s often argued that studying art forces you to give up your true creativity – once you know the rules and the ‘proper’ way to do to things, it can be difficult to ignore them and do things the way that you want to. Anthony Perez is a photographer who isn’t afraid to do things his own way. The California-based creative is completely self-taught, and his hands-on approach to learning his craft has given him an organic, less formulaic and less rule-oriented style that has resulted in some unique and beautiful shots. We spoke to Anthony about exploring your surroundings, learning for yourself and the excitement of shooting film.
Hi. Tell us a little about yourself - where are you from, where are you based and what do you do outside of photography?
My name is Anthony Perez. I’m from a town called Visalia, California. Born and raised here. Outside of photography I’ve always loved playing instruments and producing/writing music. My passion for photography was always present, but really came back strong once I got back into film and has been taking over since then. I have phases of different interests, but photography is one that I don’t seem to stray very far from.
When did you begin shooting, what made you start and what has driven you to continue?
I got my first camera from my father when I was about 12. It was a Minolta X-370 he used in college, along with two zoom lenses. I saved lunch money to buy film from the local Walgreen’s and began shooting different things like flowers, portraits of girls that I hung out with, cliché stuff. I was more excited to learn the process and see if the film actually came out more than having “keepers”. Once I started to shoot skateboarding - which will always be a huge part of my life but especially was at that age - it all started to come together. I started to figure out how the camera worked even though I didn’t quite understand the technicalities. For example, I knew if stepped back and zoomed in real close rather than step forward and zoom out, it would bring a soft blurry background forward, which is what I now understand to be lens compression and aperture control. Or if I turn the big knob to 1000 or 500 rather than 125 or 60, it freezes time more quickly but comes out darker, which I know now to be the shutter speed. My learning process was sort of backwards in that sense. I understood the movements of the camera before I knew what to call everything. This gave me a sort of organic, less formulaic, less rule-oriented approach.
What do you shoot on?
I’m currently shooting a Leica M6 TTL with various 35mm and 50mm lenses. Right now it is my favorite camera ever, but generally I fall in love with every film camera I use. I spent a long time shooting the Canon A-1 system (so much so that I’m on my 4th body), which in my mind is still the most versatile system I have. At one point I shot exclusively on a couple different Rolleiflex TLRs for street photography. I shot for almost an entire year with only a Leica IIIF and Leica IIIC. I learned a lot using fully mechanical, fully manual cameras without a meter for a long period of time. It definitely help me start observe what was in front of me and understand light. I recommend everyone try all manual cameras at one point as it will build your confidence and knowledge like nothing else, leading to a more freeing, instinctive experience. I also have a love for compact point and shoots for everyday carrying, but ever since I got the M6, it has been going with me everywhere.
Over what span of time were these photos taken? What makes them stand out from your other shots?
All of these photos are very recent, I would say all within the last year. Amazing cityscapes and landscapes are all easily accessible being right in the center of California. Some shots from these places like downtown LA or Yosemite National Park could very likely be on the same roll. As far as why I chose these particular photos, I could never choose a select few photos that standout for me over all time, so I chose my more recent favorites from my current phase, color film. I actually shoot dominantly black and white, but recently forced myself to give color film a go. I chose these as a snapshot in time of what I’m currently doing. This last year has been a fun experiment and definitely got me out of my comfort zone with a burst of color.
How do you think your work is affected by sharing it online?
This is an interesting question I haven’t really given that much thought. I don’t look to film photography as a profession, but it is something I love doing. I don’t know how much posting online can affect my work. I just hope my work affects people. When I see a photo on Instagram that makes me feel something, a photo that makes me forget about composition, sharpness, etc., I appreciate the raw or nostalgic type of feelings I get. I suppose the ideal effect of posting my photos online is to allow them to reach more people and inspire the same feelings.
My learning process was sort of backwards - I understood the movements of the camera before I knew what to call everything.
What do you look for when you’re taking a photo? Are you more concerned with the composition or evoking a certain feeling?
I’m much more excited to evoke certain feelings rather than execute a technically perfect shot. When I started shooting at the age of 12, composition and a lot of rules got ignored from being so new. Like I mentioned earlier, it was much more about the process and not the end result. As I grew up and eventually started shooting semi-professionally with digital cameras, composition, color theory, sharpness, perfect focus, etc. were very important to please the average audience/client. Using advanced digital systems with multi-flash setups and heavy post processing was fun in its own way, but eventually led to staring at screens 90% of the time, which I hate. I eventually came back to the simplicity and welcomed limitations of film. It’s gotten me back to the excitement and respect of every photo for what it is. I’m closer to the 12 year old photographer I started as. With the wonder and desire to go outside and shoot, rather than sit behind a computer all day.
Is there anyone you’d like to shout out (photographers, friends, creatives)?
I want to thank my wife Jessica for supporting my decisions to do the things I love (because we all know she didn’t marry a film photographer for the money). I also would like to thank Matt Day for sparking my interest in film again many years ago.